Kidnapped by the Greek Billionaire
Or that’s what it feels like to Kizzy Dean when a business disagreement with arrogant Greek lawyer Andreas Lazarides leaves her no choice but to accompany him to the Greek Isle of Rhodes. It doesn’t help matters that this sexy brooding stranger, who is unaccustomed to the word No and the very idea of commitment, shows her what it feels like to be truly desired. Amidst the ancient myths and alleyways, tensions run high as Kizzy feels an immediate attraction for the man she wants to both ravage and strangle.
Accustomed to gold-digging women, Andreas is mesmerized by Kizzy’s feisty nature and Gypsy beauty. Guilt and sorrow have been his only bedfellows since his sister’s death, but Kizzy stirs up a desire he’s unwilling to succumb to…until she makes him an offer he simply can’t refuse.
© 2012 Rachel Lyndhurst
“Damn this place!”
Andreas Lazarides stared up through the Bentley’s dark-tinted windows into a dull London sky. His driver was parked illegally, his delegates were late and he was in danger of forgetting how much he stood to gain by courting this parliamentary lobbying group.
He hated it when people were late.
As he sat there, waiting, Andreas realized with disbelief that this was his second no-show in the capital that morning.
He made a grab for his briefcase as a police officer indicated they should move immediately. His chauffeur turned the key in the ignition and waited expectantly.
“Okay, I’ll get out here and call when I need you back.”
Andreas glared as the car’s red taillights disappeared into traffic. His hand tightened into a fist; his cell phone was still on the back seat of the Bentley. He inhaled savagely as he pictured his already tight schedule being squeezed. And none of this was his fault.
“Bloody politicians,” he muttered as he glanced across the river to Big Ben. His annoyance intensified into volcanic exasperation as the first warm, heavy drops of a summer storm began to spatter the shoulders of his Canali suit.
Stalking across the gritty pavement, Andreas Lazarides cursed every atom on earth that had brought him to this particular place and time.
The secretary was immaculately dressed and coiffured, and her huge white reception desk was equally intimidating. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, Miss Dean, but the senior partner left the building some time ago.”
Kizzy Dean felt her stomach churn with panic. There had to be some mistake. “But I have an appointment, a long-standing one. It’s taken me over two months to get a meeting, in fact, I—”
“You’re late,” the other woman snapped. She returned the passport Kizzy had been instructed to bring along as ID. Her long, red nails reflected the cold neon strip light overhead. “Ten minutes late, to be precise.”
Kizzy felt heat flood her cheeks as their eyes locked in a silent impasse. Clearly, it would be a waste of breath to try to explain that her train journey had taken four hours instead of two due to a bomb scare. Her obsessive forward planning had failed spectacularly and she was, as had been so sharply pointed out, a full ten minutes late.
And she was never, ever late.
Kizzy’s eyes fell helplessly to the secretary’s gilt nameplate on the desk. Nervously, she fingered the envelope in her hand. Things were starting to go terribly wrong. It felt as though she were slipping off the edge of a cliff; she needed to take action to save herself. And fast.
“Listen, Mrs. Hoppenwilde, Isabella, this really isn’t my fault and in the light of this letter it’s imperative that I speak with him immediately.” Kizzy battled inwardly with her pride; she hated having to beg. But what choice did she have? “Please. Is there anything you can do to help me?”
“I’m afraid not. By my calculations, he’ll be on his first glass of champagne one hundred meters up on the London Eye, and he’s due to leave London immediately after that engagement.” Isabella Hoppenwilde regarded her frostily. Her thin smile verged on the sadistic. “Looks like you’ve had it.”
Kizzy fought to steady her breathing and palmed the weave of her skirt, willing it down another discreet inch or two to cover the snag her hosiery had sustained on the London Underground.
She was still struggling with what she had read in the dark oak-paneled offices of Heliades International Inc., the chilling words that had made her chase like a lunatic across London toward the river Thames. The words that meant she had no choice in the drastic step she was about to take, because she had nothing left in the world to lose.
Her frantic bolt to the London Eye—where she now stood, staring up at the wheel—had left her feeling disheveled and clammy, her heavy woolen suit an instrument of torture. The tweedy garment was the only suitable business attire she owned and the last of her funds had been sunk into the new stilettos she was wearing.
And now those new stilettos really hurt.
Kizzy glanced down at her pointy toes and wondered if she dared slip her heels off for a moment, but she forgot her discomfort when she noticed once more the large white envelope protruding from her bag. Its forbidding, formal whiteness made her heart flood with dread.
Tearing her eyes away, she looked determinedly up at the colossal ring of glass and steel that held her future, a future for which she intended to fight tooth and nail.
Oh, how she wished she were somewhere else right now.
Kizzy tottered backward as a large raindrop landed forcefully just beneath her eye, stinging her skin. As her eye began to water, she scrubbed at it angrily in case it ushered along a flood of real tears.
“Here,” came a deep male voice from beside her. A blue, folded silk handkerchief was thrust into her hand. “Same thing just happened to me.”
“Please don’t worry.” She instinctively went to push away the offering. “It’s very kind, but—”
The breath stalled in her lungs as her eyes focused on the striking physical embodiment of That Voice. His tall body was all angles, a mass of square and triangular planes of masculinity, which shifted powerfully beneath the fabric of what was obviously a very expensive suit.
As she slowly dared to look up farther, his face was close enough for her to take in every detail.
Her knees went as weak as a newborn lamb’s.
A shock of jet-black hair stroked his smooth caramel-lacquer brow above a pair of assertive eyebrows tapering elegantly over dark onyx eyes that shimmered with tiny flecks of gold, pewter and slate. Briefly, trying not to stare like a schoolgirl, Kizzy’s gaze slid to his aristocratic, almost Roman nose and the terse line of his mouth below it, a mouth that made her tingle with sudden and acute female awareness. Before she could stop herself, her lips parted to exhale a soft, involuntary breath of excitement.
“It’s not contaminated.” He pressed forward the triangle of navy blue silk again and nodded with satisfaction as she took it from him. “You look harassed. Not here for pleasure, then?”
She must look a mess, Kizzy realized with horror, and hurriedly swept the handkerchief across her face. She did her best to ignore the trace of male scent within its fibers, though it was difficult.
“I’m trying to find my boss actually; it’s a matter of urgency.”
“Not an MP, is he?” the businessman drawled sardonically. A look of wry amusement briefly softened the harsh perspective of his face as he looked absently around him.
“No.” She handed back the crumpled handkerchief. “He’s a complete and utter bastard.”
A dark eyebrow rose. “Is that so?”
“Sorry—I’m not usually so insulting about people, but this man is different.” Kizzy felt annoyance as the stranger shrugged and rocked back on his heels, clearly unconvinced. “If you must know, this man intends to take my job, my home and my entire future from me. And he hasn’t even got the guts to do it to my face.”
The Suit looked over his shoulder and then at his watch. “He must have his reasons.”
“I doubt if Andreas Lazarides gives a damn about anyone or anything.” She glared angrily up at the gigantic tubular wheel spokes splayed across the sky. “But I’m not giving in without a fight.”
Kizzy glanced across at him as the man squinted into the distance. He must be a big shot in the city, she thought. Smart and gorgeous, but undoubtedly a workaholic judging by the way he seemed to be constantly thinking, analyzing, speculating.
His dark eyes unexpectedly found hers again. “Andreas Lazarides. A Greek bastard, then?”
Kizzy nodded and shot him a crooked smile; his accent was quite compelling.
His own mouth remained stern. “So what’s your name? Miss…?”
She paused for a moment and tried not to be drawn further into the deep mocha swirl of his eyes. His tone had suddenly become a little harsh and her stomach clenched for a second. She needed to be careful. After all, he was a complete stranger.
He could be anyone.
“Isabella,” she murmured, before she could stop herself.
She held out a hand and suppressed a tremor of awareness as his large, warm hand captured hers and held it for a second longer than was absolutely necessary. The sensation rocketed straight to the middle of her chest and seemed to double her heart rate.
“Isabella Hoppenwilde,” she continued, lying instinctively.
The air hung still for a moment and Kizzy was aware of nothing but the way this city Adonis was staring at her, sucking her into the dangerous depths of his eyes, almost undressing her with his unwavering scrutiny.
Perhaps he was waiting for her to ask his name in return?
It would be the polite thing to do. Not that she was feeling particularly polite today, of all days.
“So how are you planning to find him? There are hundreds of people around.” He released her hand. “Unless, of course, he stands out from the crowd in some way.”
“I’m just going to watch while everyone comes off,” Kizzy said feebly, realizing that she had no idea what her quarry looked like. They had never even spoken on the phone, let alone met.
“Well, let me help you spot him,” he offered, much to her surprise. “What does he look like, this Andreas Lazarides?”
“He’s balding and generally surrounded by security staff,” she heard herself bluff shamelessly, not daring to hesitate in case he guessed she was lying. “And he’ll head straight for one of those ostentatious blacked-out vehicles that will be circling the area, a Mercedes or something. Oh yes, and he always struts about in a very pompous, self-important way—his method of compensating for being so short.”
She smiled with satisfaction at the image she had just created. He sounded quite revolting, her Andreas Lazarides.
“Sounds like he may be doing a couple of circuits of the wheel—especially if it’s a boozy corporate do,” the Suit replied and looked coldly skyward as heavy raindrops began to fall faster and closer together. “In which case, you could be standing out in this for an hour. I’ve got a better idea. My party seems to have let me down, and as you will discover,” he gestured toward the embarkation pier where a guide stood next to a silver-wheeled metal case, “the Eye waits for no one.”
She was hit by a rush of adrenaline as he grabbed her hand and pulled her along behind him. Her high heels clattered on the grooved metal plating underfoot as they shot along a roped-off “fast track” route to the front of the queue, netting curious stares and a number of speculative camera flashes as they went.
“No, I can’t!” Kizzy was quickly trying to work out a dignified exit route, a means of escape from a situation that was beginning to feel increasingly dangerous. “My boss—”
“I intend to help you find him.” He broke off briefly to speak into the waiting guide’s ear. “Join me for thirty minutes on the Eye and we’ll spot him while we’re up there. There can’t be too many stack-heeled bastards with receding hairlines per capsule and his henchmen are going to make it obvious where he is.”
“Really…I don’t want to put you out.”
Kizzy was frantically trying to decline his invitation without making a fool of herself. She was going to look completely nuts if she confessed she’d never even met her boss in the flesh.
“It’s moving so slowly, I could lose him if he gets off before us, so—”
She rubbed her brow without even realizing she was doing it, inadvertently revealing her unease.
“That won’t happen.” He tugged her sharply toward an empty capsule. “Now jump!”
The guide swiftly loaded the silver-wheeled box into the capsule and all Kizzy could do was watch the door slide closed as if in a horrible dream.
There was an eerie quietness as the rattle of London life was muffled into submission. Then the crowd outside gradually shrank from view as the Eye continued its relentless journey. Her attention was jolted back from the sight of the world disappearing beneath her feet by the sound of a popping champagne cork. It hit the ceiling and then rolled toward the soles of her uncomfortably shod feet.
“Let’s celebrate,” the dark stranger announced smoothly, handing her a champagne flute, “our chance meeting. Like two planets colliding. The chances of it happening? Slim. The results? Earth-shattering.”
Kizzy felt color warm her cheeks and couldn’t be sure if it was panic because she was alone with—practically kidnapped by, in fact—this incredibly sexy man, or shame at allowing her body to respond to his domineering smile in a way that was most unladylike.
“Thank you,” she murmured. Her fingers curled tightly around the slender champagne flute. “You’re incredibly generous, especially considering I’m a complete stranger.”
“A most beautiful stranger,” he corrected and smiled with obvious satisfaction at the deepening flush of color that accompanied the lowering of her eyelashes. “But, you know, it’s odd. Somehow it feels as if we have known each other for rather longer than five minutes.”
Kizzy’s heart was pounding hard enough to hike up her blood pressure until she felt sick.
She was not enjoying this enforced captivity one bit.
“I should have asked,” he continued blandly as he gestured toward the now-elevated view over the city. “Have you ever been up on the Eye before?”
“No, never,” she replied and took a nervous sip of her icy champagne. “This view over London is quite spectacular.”
“It is,” he agreed, and another taut smile briefly dressed his lips. “And we’re now too far off the ground for you to evade me.”
Kizzy’s heart plunged to her feet and her entire body stiffened. She felt her eyes widen with alarm. “Evade you? Look, this capsule is transparent. You’ll never get away with—”
He laughed harshly.
“With what? Taking gross advantage of you? Please.” The gorgeous stranger snapped his gaze away from her and gestured toward the rapidly shrinking Houses of Parliament. “Look at that view. A hotbed of corruption and deceit these days, I gather.”
Kizzy stared at his sharp features and cowered against the curved glass wall until his eyes rounded on her.
“So…Isabella…” His eyes were blacker than anything she had ever seen. “I am very keen to know your secret.”
“Mmm, like how you managed to totally transform yourself in the space of an hour.” He exhaled slowly and the curl of his lips exuded disgust. “Just how did you get all that scarlet nail polish off?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Then you’re not very good at this, are you?” He took a sip of his champagne and swallowed hard. “I assume you are the unbelievably persistent and annoying Kizzy Dean? The pint-pulling, napkin-folding thorn in my side that’s been badgering my offices over the past two months?”
Kizzy’s legs trembled with the appalling realization of what was happening, of how stupid she must look.
It was him!
Lazarides had been handed to her on a plate, she finally had his full attention, but… She almost choked when she began to remember the things she’d said about him down on the ground. Her entire world seemed to be shriveling to nothing beneath his looming shadow.
“There’s no need to be so rude,” she whispered, even as her mind raced around the fact that there was no way out of this awkward situation.
“I don’t think we’ll get on to rude, Kizzy, do you? I don’t recall ever being called a bastard to my face—not even by a woman scorned. And there have been a few.”
Kizzy felt her cheeks blaze with humiliation. “Look, this is horrifically embarrassing—”
“Big of you to admit it.”
Kizzy’s voice shook. “I’ve dealt with this very badly and I can’t apologize enough for my remarks earlier, but I was—am—convinced that Timi’s Taverna can still work. I’ve brought my business plan—”
“Forget it, the restaurant is finished.” He frowned at the way her violet blue eyes seemed to exude innocence and he disliked the strange feeling it caused inside him. He deliberately sharpened his tone, suddenly aware that the lush shape and color of her mouth had been distracting him. “It’s no reflection on your abilities or efforts since the Antonides family left you as manager, but the whole mess is now beyond making economic sense.”
“As stated in my letter, you will receive three months’ salary in lieu of notice and must vacate the flat above the restaurant within the month. It’s a reasonable settlement in my opinion, going over and above what is strictly required legally, so I’d take the offer and run if I were you.” He paused and his eyes narrowed to charcoal slits as his voice dropped to a menacing whisper. “I could be much more of a bastard if I wanted to be, believe me.”
Kizzy’s hand trembled as she produced a folder that held hours of work and represented many nights of lost sleep. “So you’re not even going to look at this then?” She couldn’t just give up.
“There’s no point. The numbers speak for themselves. The business is a dead duck.”
“But I can turn it round. Just give me a chance.”
He shrugged. “I can’t.”
“You can’t?” Kizzy replied bitterly. “I don’t believe you.”
For one inexplicable moment, Andreas was tempted to inform her that as executor of his mother’s will he was merely carrying out her wishes. But he restrained himself. Whatever he had to do in England was none of her business and he was not in the habit of explaining himself to anyone.
He took a step nearer and lowered his face to within an inch of hers.
“Okay then, let’s make this simple. I won’t!” He frowned harder, rattled for some reason by the altercation. “Besides, there are other factors, things about which you know nothing. I admire your spirit, but Timi’s has to go.”
“But I came all this way, even prepared a presentation for you—”
“I’m sorry you’ve had a wasted journey.” Andreas Lazarides waved his hand dismissively. “But it was you who insisted on coming here with all your big ideas after hounding the office for weeks until I gave in. And that was just to stop Isabella moaning about your twice-daily calls. To be frank, you’ve made a bloody nuisance of yourself. This unpleasantness could have been settled much more conveniently by e-mail.”
Anger simmered in Kizzy’s belly. Such persistence hadn’t come easily to her, but she had been so sure that her new boss would have a speck of fair play about him and that he would at least listen. She had been terribly wrong about the Greek business tycoon.
“Instinct tells me that you would have found me much easier to ignore by e-mail, Mr. Lazarides. I wouldn’t put it past you to have dumped me straight into the spam folder, unread.”
“There is every possibility of that, yes. And then I imagine I would have pressed ‘delete.’ It would have been an enormous relief.”
Kizzy felt the metaphorical slap in the face, and then the random kicks for good measure. She felt herself tremble. In spite of everything she had done at the restaurant following its sale to Heliades International Inc., her future now looked utterly bleak.
Any excitement or optimism she had felt that morning had evaporated.
“What a mess.” She tipped her head skyward to contain the humiliated tear she felt growing in the corner of her eye. “I was so certain about all this. I went over it so many times in my head, on paper and spreadsheets.”
“It is most unfortunate,” he muttered.
Kizzy lowered her gaze, summoning hidden reserves to challenge the black ice that crackled mercilessly in his eyes. “Listen, I’d never have sunk what was left of my savings into the taverna if Mr. Antonides hadn’t promised me it was going to be a long-term thing, that you supported appointing a manager to run the place when he retired. There was no indication that I was going to have the rug pulled right out from under my feet.”
“You’ve spent your own money on the venture? That was a pretty stupid thing to do. Managers take a salary; they don’t go ‘investing’ all over the place.” Andreas shook his head at her in disbelief. “Your file says you’re a graduate, a woman with a brain. What on earth made you act so dumb?”
He’d read her file?
She felt the tenacious tear drip onto the floor, and loathed her lack of control. But there seemed to be little point in keeping up appearances now.
“Timi’s is all I have left; it’s my home and only source of income. Or it was.” The silence was as heavy as the sky was becoming dark. “I can’t believe this is what the Antonideses intended. They’re friends. And they’re going to be so upset when I tell them what’s happened.”
Andreas reached her in three long strides and gripped her by the upper arm. “You will tell them nothing! Nothing at all, do you hear?” His grip only loosened as he registered the shock on her face. “They must never hear of this. Never.”
Kizzy’s brain was now a confused tangle. The Antonideses had been like family to her since her mother died, and she was still in regular contact with them. In fact, Mrs. Antonides had e-mailed a few pictures of their new villa that morning, so it would be impossible not to tell them without being dishonest.
The first acrid threads of anger and indignation began to rise to her defense; roughly, she wrenched her arm free.
“And why the hell shouldn’t I tell them? To protect your reputation or something?” Kizzy let out a bitter laugh. “You want me to lie for you, is that it? I don’t think so.”
“You have no idea what damage you could cause with that mouth of yours. The Antonideses are good people who have worked hard, asked for little and given back a hundred-fold all they received. But they are not good businesspeople. Incredibly proud, but hopeless with money.” He began to pace the floor, and heads turned in the adjacent capsule as he spoke tersely, gesturing. “How do you think they’ll feel if you tell them their lives’ work was just a mountain of debt? That it was all for nothing? And then you intend heaping guilt on them for leaving poor little you in the gutter!”
“No! I’d never—”
“Your indiscretion will ruin their happy retirement and condemn them to spend the rest of their lives in shame and regret. Believe me, Miss Dean, I know how these people are. Prouder and more honorable than you could ever imagine. Besides that, no one owes you a living either; times are hard for everyone right now.” He raked a hand through his black hair. “And please. You’re a pretty little graduate, you can get a reasonable job if you apply yourself, so spare me the crocodile tears.”
Kizzy snapped her jaw shut, crushing her teeth together so hard it hurt. She’d stupidly let him see her cry and he’d pounced on that moment of incredible vulnerability.
No one owes you a living.
As if she didn’t know that already. The man was a beast.
“Of course I would do anything to avoid hurting Theo and Ana. They don’t deserve that.”
He fixed her with a stare as hard and cold as stone. “So how much do you want?”
Kizzy swallowed back more bitter, acid tears. “What?”
“You heard me,” he replied, dark lashes narrowing his eyes until it looked as if he was sneering at her. “How much do I have to pay you to say that you have decided to resign your position, and then to sign a legal document promising you won’t do anything to cause mental or emotional harm to the Antonides family?”
Kizzy’s mouth gaped with disbelief that this dreadful man could think so badly of her. “I told you I would never hurt them deliberately!”
Andreas pretended to choke on a hollow laugh. “And why on earth should I believe that?”
“Because I said so?” Kizzy folded her arms tightly across her chest to stop her hands from shaking.
“What? You? The woman who introduced herself to me as my very own secretary of five years? Who lied with the very first breaths of London air we shared? I can’t take that risk.” Andreas turned abruptly away and, raising both palms above his head, leaned against the cool glass of the capsule window. “I might be a bastard, but I’m not an idiot. Name your price.”
“I don’t want your money.”
“No?” He laughed unpleasantly and pushed himself away from the window. “I find that almost impossible to believe, since you lost everything you possessed in the world only a few seconds ago. So, tell me, what do you want?”
“I want back what’s been taken from me. My job, my home, and my plans for the future. I don’t want your handouts, or anyone else’s for that matter. All I want is the chance to prove myself and to earn my way out of—to earn a reasonable living. Enough to be independent.”
Kizzy was beginning to feel more annoyed than upset now that all seemed to be lost and her best efforts had come to nothing. “Well, I’m so glad you think so,” she replied.
At least she’d stopped crying now, Andreas thought disparagingly. “So,” he began. “Would you consider yourself to be a risk-taker?”
Kizzy regarded him suspiciously. “I’m not sure.”
He waited for a moment to see if she would elaborate. “Or do you perhaps see yourself spending the next forty or so years in a dusty office ticking boxes for a living?”
Kizzy’s thoughts strayed to her late mother as she posed in a very old photograph, young, beautiful, and deliciously wild with large golden hoops in her ears. She yearned to be cast to the four winds by circumstance. She would relish the freedom and exhilaration but there were the debts to consider, a bitter legacy she had to bear. She couldn’t just run away from that.
“Absolutely not,” she told him.
“How brave are you feeling at the moment?” Andreas asked, his expression deadly.
Kizzy was perplexed at the tone of his question; something had changed behind those demanding black eyes of his. “I think this is the bravest I’ve ever had to be in my life.”
He gestured to the London skyline. “Brave enough to leave this place straight away? To leave London with me?”
Kizzy stared at him blankly, unable to work out what was going on inside their huge, floating bubble of glass. “Leave? Now?”
“In the next thirty minutes.”
“And go where exactly?”
“Somewhere I can keep a close eye on you until I sort out some legal guarantees between us. I agree to provide you with work and accommodation in return for your cooperation with regard to the Antonides family. The ‘future’ part is up to you, but you’ll have the tools to make it happen. I want you to come to Greece with me. The island of Rhodes, to be precise.”
“But I’ve nothing with me, no spare clothes.”
“Don’t worry.” A slow smile formed as his dark eyes trailed her body from head to toe. “You won’t be needing many clothes.”